this day in crime history: october 1, 1910

On this date in 1910, a bomb was detonated in an alley next to the Los Angeles Times building in Los Angeles, CA.  The bomb, which was planted by labor union activists who were angry at the paper’s anti-union editorial policies, was set to go off when the building was empty.  A faulty timer resulted in an early detonation.  A faulty placement of the device–right over a gas line–resulted in a fire that ultimately destroyed the entire building, and the building next door.  In all, 21 people were killed.

The police investigation of the bombing quickly hit a dead, leading city officials to hire private investigator William J. Burns to track down the guilty parties.  Burns, who was already investigating other bombings believed to be union-related, incorporated the case into his ongoing investigation.  Based on information from spies that Burns had planted in the unions, as well as eyewitness testimony, Burns identified the guilty parties as brothers J.B. and J.J. McNamara, and Ortie McManigal, who were all labor union officials.  In April 1911, McManigal and J.B. McNamara were arrested in a hotel in Detroit.  They were found in possession of suitcases that contained blasting caps, dynamite, and alarm clocks.  After a grueling (and probably unconstitutional) interrogation, Burns got McManigal to agree to turn state’s evidence.  A warrant was obtained for the arrest of J.J. McNamara.  He was arrested several days later at an executive board meeting of the Iron Workers Union.

National labor leaders condemned the arrests as a frame job.  The union tried to hire famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow to defend the men.  Darrow initially declined due to his failing health, but was eventually convinced to take the case by labor organizer Samuel Gompers.

Darrow quickly realized that the police had a fair amount of evidence against the McNamaras, including the testimony of McManigal, who was not being charged in the case.  He eventually convinced the brothers to plead guilty in order to avoid death sentences.  J.B. McNamara was sentenced to life in prison.  J.J. McNamara got 15 years.  J.B. died in prison in March 1941.  Upon his release, J.J. went back to work for the Iron Workers Union as an organizer.  He died in Butte, MT, two months after his brother’s death.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Los Angeles Times bombing

Wikipedia – William J. Burns

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this day in crime history: august 31, 1985

Stalker

On this date in 1985, police in Los Angeles, CA broke up a mob that was beating a man they had detained. The man was Richard Ramirez, better known as the Night Stalker. The crowd had recognized him from a mugshot that had recently been shown on TV. The LAPD had identified Ramirez as the prime suspect in over a dozen murders, as well as attempted murders, sexual assaults, and burglaries.

Ramirez was tried and convicted of 13 murders, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries. He was sentenced to death. Richard Ramirez died of cancer while awaiting execution. He was 53 years old and had been on death row for 23 years.

In a strange twist, Ramirez was captured on the 97th anniversary of the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, the first of the canonical five victim’s of  Jack the Ripper’s.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Richard Ramirez

Crime Museum – Richard Ramirez: The Night Stalker

About.com – The Night Stalker – Richard Ramirez

this day in crime history: august 11, 1965

WattsRiot

On this date in 1965, a minor scuffle following a traffic stop in Los Angeles would escalate into what would become known as the Watts riots. The unrest would continue until August 17th. When it was all over, 34 people were killed, over 1000 injured, and 3400 arrested. Almost a thousand buildings, mostly businesses, were damaged or destroyed. Damage was estimated to be about $40 million.

Further reading:

Watts Rebellion (Los Angeles, 1965)

Wikipedia – Watts Riots

this day in crime history: august 9, 1969

On this date in 1969, members of Charles Manson’s “family” murdered five people at the Los Angeles home of actress Sharon Tate.  The victims included Tate (who was eight months pregnant), hair stylist Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Polish actor/writer Wojciech Frykowski, and recent high school graduate Steven Parent.  Three of the victims were friends of Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski.  Polanski was in Europe filming a movie at the time of the murders.  The fifth victim, Steven Parent, had the misfortune of visiting the home’s caretaker (who was staying in an adjacent cottage) on the night of the murder.  He was intercepted by the Mansonites as he was leaving the property.

The victims were all shot and/or stabbed by Manson followers Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Watkins, and Patricia Krenwinkle while Linda Kasabian stood watch.  After the murders, Atkins wrote “pig” on the front door of the house using Sharon Tate’s blood.

The following night, the four killers, along with two other Manson followers, Leslie Van Houten and Steve “Clem” Grogan, would murder Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.  Manson would actually accompany the murderers to the scene this time, but left the dirty work to his minions.

When police finally caught up to Manson and his crew, they convinced Linda Kasabian, who hadn’t actually committed any of the murders, to testify against the other members of the family.  All of the defendants were ultimately convicted.  They are all currently incarcerated in California, except for Grogan, who was paroled in 1985, and Atkins, who died in prison in 2009. Linda Kasabian returned to her native New Hampshire after the trial.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Charles Manson and the Manson Family

Find-a-Death – The Death of Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders

this day in crime history: june 20, 1947

On this date in 1947, Bugsy Siegel got whacked. Iced. Taken out. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel — who hated that nickname, by the way — was shot while sitting next to a window in the Beverly Hills house he shared with girlfriend Virginia Hill. According to his death certificate, the cause of death was “cerebral hemmorage” (apparently spelling was not a high priority at the L.A. County Registrar’s Office) due to “gunshots of the head” (neither was grammar, I guess). One shot hit Siegel right near his eye. If he saw it coming, he didn’t see it for long.

The murder was never solved, but theories abound. Who was behind it? Was it Meyer Lansky? Lucky Luciano? Some investors who were less than happy about the profitability of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino? Author Warren Hull has a theory about the identity of the trigger man. Check out this interview with Hull.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Bugsy Siegel

Wikipedia – Bugsy Siegel

Family Secret, by Warren Robert Hull

this day in crime history: june 16, 1999

On this date in 1999, middle class St. Paul, MN mom Sara Jane Olson was arrested after being profiled on America’s Most Wanted. As it turns out, the socially active mother of three had a secret identity. In a prior life, she was Kathleen Ann Soliah, a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army terrorist group.

Soliah had been in hiding since 1976, when she was indicted for her role in planting pipe bombs that were targeted at police officers in Los Angeles.

Olson eventually pleaded guilty to the explosives charges and to her role in a robbery that resulted in the death of a woman. She was sentenced to 14 years in prison, but her sentence was eventually reduced by a judge.

In 2008, Olson was erroneously released from prison due to a miscalculation by prison officials. She was rearrested and returned to prison. She was paroled in March of 2009 and was allowed to return to Minnesota to serve out her sentence.

Further reading:

CNN – ’70s radical Sara Jane Olson released from prison

Wikipedia – Sara Jane Olson

this day in crime history: june 5, 1968

RFK

On this date in 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was shot in Los Angeles, CA.

It was just after midnight when Kennedy finished addressing supporters at the Ambassador Hotel’s Embassy Room ballroom. His advisers decided it would be best to leave the hotel through the kitchen, so as to avoid reporters who were pushing for an impromptu press conference.

As the entourage moved through the kitchen, they were confronted by 24 year old Sirhan Sirhan, an immigrant with Jordanian citizenship. A Christian of Palestinian descent, Sirhan was angered by Kennedy’s support of Israel. He  produced a .22 caliber pistol and shot Kennedy repeatedly. Kennedy fell to the floor as his security detail, consisting of former FBI agent William Barry, decathlete Rafer Johnson, and pro-footballer Roosevelt Greer, wrestled Sirhan to the ground and subdued him. The gun discharged several times during the struggle and five people were injured. After being subdued, Sirhan managed to break loose and grab the gun again. He attempted to shoot it, but he had already used up all his ammo.

Senator Kennedy was taken to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan for emergency surgery, but the prognosis was not good. At 2 AM the following morning, a spokesman announced that Kennedy had died.

Sirhan Sirhan was tried by the State of California for murder. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the gas chamber. His sentence was commuted to life by a California court in accordance with the People v. Anderson decision. He is currently incarcerated at California’s Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego and has been denied parole over a dozen times.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – The Murder of Robert Kennedy

About.com – Robert Kennedy Assassination

Wikipedia – Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy